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text by Vladimir Karadzoski




Procka (Day of forgiveness, also named Veliki Pokladi) is one of the most important festival among the Orthodox Christian population. It is a moveable feast celebrated seven weeks before Easter and it always falls on Sunday.

On this day, a carnival is held in Prilep, in which local butchers, called Bearmen, dress up in masks and costumes made of animal skins and parade through the town.

Actually, the ritual begins a day before, on Saturday, when the sounds of drums (decorated with sheep skin) and zurli (a wind instrument with a double whistle), accompanied by the ritual dance of the drummers, invite all the butchers to take participation at the feast on the following day.

The main ritual of dressing takes place on Sunday early in the morning. It is performed in a traditional way: butchers put on the skins and fasten them firmly, first on the legs and then on their bodies and arms. Finally, they put the specially prepared masks, so called surats, on their faces. The surats are usually made of black canvas, with zoomorphic forms, with holes for the eyes and mouth. They are embroidered with threads in red and other colours and decorated with yellow beads. They are also ornamented with old silver coins, necklets, spangles and fringes and sometimes with teeth of various animals. They usually put on lambskins in a form of bear's head over the surat, with goat's beard fastened at its lower part. By putting masks on their faces, the Bearmen want to come closer to the world of their ancestors and gods whose help and protection they are asking for. It is also an opportunity for them to become someone else, a new creature with different possibilities. The bear is the most common mask in ritual dances. The phallic elements noted during these feasts witness that the bear cult represents the fertility and reproduction of animals.

Skins are both white and black colour. They are considerably weighty and therefore they must be fastened well. After putting the skins on their waists, the Bearmen also put on belts with the cowbells. There are various kinds of cowbells, from smallest to largest, some of them weighing up to several kilos. Inevitable equipment of this celebration are the shepherd's crooks.

After all preparations and dressing have been done, the group is ready to start its traditional, whole day long walk. It should be mentioned that the group consists only of men and bachelors-butchers and each group consists mostly of about 30 persons.

By beating with their long crooks and by shaking with the cowbells, the Bearmen want to chase the evil spirits and to bring health, joy, happiness and fertility.

Vladimir Karadzoski,
doctor in sociology, ethnology and folklore

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